As we walked through the Menin Gate we were presented with our medals. There were tears, handshakes, and hugs. Each had different emotions that just seemed to well over. The feeling of walking 100km over 3 days, coupled with the sights, and sites, we had seen, and the senseless waste, is very difficult to describe. We were cold, wet, and our feet were sore, but hey – we were in modern fabrics and footwear, we would shortly be in a warm hotel eating warm food and drinking a cold beer. A far cry from those poor souls that went to war, lived in trenches, were shot at and shelled, lost friends and comrades, and sadly for so many – never returned home. We had absolutely nothing to complain about.
Following check in all we wanted was a warm bath (not together!). Lying in the bath all I could hear from the surrounding rooms was running water and skin squeaking on the bath tubs – made me giggle. It’s amazing how just half an hour or so off your feet is enough time for your body to recover, not fully I might add. Ceri’s medical expertise was called on several times over the 3 days, diagnosing and treating blisters, sprained feet, sore ankles and knees.
We then had to present ourselves at the Menin Gate for the ceremony of the Last Post. This has been performed every evening at 8pm under the gate since its dedication in 1928, except during the occupation of Ypres during WWII when it was performed at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. I had arranged to lay a wreath on behalf of my Lodge, More Majorum, but I’m unable to describe the feeling of doing so. The pictures can tell the story.
As the photo above is a little rain spattered, the text reads:
Remembering all fallen brothers in arms.
Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.
Life, to be sure
is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
In the manner of our forefathers – may we all be as brave and selfless as the courageous souls who gave their lives for us.
The Master, Wardens, Officers, and Brethren, of More Majorum Lodge No.7786.
The Lodge name, ‘More Majorum’ means ‘In the manner of our forefathers’, which should help to explain one of the references above.
After the, always, sobering and moving ceremony of the Last Post, we all adjourned to a local restaurant for good food, an ok-ish wine, and excellent company. It was a fitting end to an arduous, emotional, painful, and moving 3 days. Friendships were rekindled amongst those of us who have participated before, new friendships were forged, and as someone said – we met as strangers, walked as comrades, and departed as friends.
We’ll leave you with a picture of the magnificent Menin Gate, honouring over 54,000 men who fell in the Ypres Salient, and who have no known grave. The picture was taken early the following morning in bright autumn sunshine as we paid our respects to the Great Great Grandad of one of our walking buddies, a certain Corporal Frederick Harry Laird, died 10th December 1914, remembered on Panel 31 of the Gate.